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Government Department Apologizes to Domínguez Victims, Shares ‘Sorrow and Shame’

The Center for Government and International Studies houses the Government department, including many of its professors' offices.
The Center for Government and International Studies houses the Government department, including many of its professors' offices. By Delano R. Franklin
By Meera S. Nair and Andy Z. Wang, Crimson Staff Writers

The entire faculty of Harvard’s Government department issued a public apology March 9 to the women who were harassed by former Government professor Jorge I. Domínguez, who rose in departmental and University leadership despite accusations of sexual misconduct spanning four decades.

In February, an external committee tasked with reviewing sexual harassment at Harvard found that “pronounced power disparities” and “inadequate reporting mechanisms” at the University resulted in insufficient action against Domínguez, even as his misconduct was “common knowledge” throughout the Government department.

In the apology, the full faculty of the department expressed their “sorrow and shame” at the sexual harassment the women faced, and apologized that the department — along with the University — “did not respond with the effective measures to which [the women] were entitled.”

“The Department also failed to raise objections when the University promoted Dominguez to positions of power and public status,” they wrote. “For all this, we apologize unreservedly.”

Furthermore, the faculty wrote that the department did not provide the women with “an environment in which [they] felt sufficiently confident to share [their] experiences” and committed the department to further progress in improving its climate.

“We are humbled by the recognition that much work remains to be done in order to ensure that our Department becomes a place where all students, faculty, and staff feel welcome, valued, and secure,” they wrote. “And we commit ourselves to that work.”

Charna E. Sherman ’80, a former Government concentrator to whom the letter was addressed, wrote in an emailed statement that she was “touched” by the “unprecedented” apology.

“This is an apology that is transformational because it came from them, and was unanimous, unequivocal and unconditional,” Sherman wrote.

Government concentrator Nienke C. Grossman ’99, another recipient of the apology, wrote in an emailed statement that she “particularly appreciated” the department’s acknowledgement of past inadequacies in its responses to reported harassment.

“I particularly appreciated that the faculty of the Government Department took responsibility for failing to make objections when Dominguez went up for promotion and for failing to respond effectively, along with the University, when they knew or should have known about the predator in their midst,” Grossman wrote.

In early February — alongside the release of the external review committee’s findings to Harvard affiliates — University President Lawrence S. Bacow issued the first-ever public apology on behalf of the Harvard administration to the women harassed by Domínguez. In his apology, Bacow specifically addressed Stanford professor emerita Terry L. Karl, writing that “Harvard failed her.”

Karl was an assistant professor at Harvard when she accused Domínguez of harassment in 1983; the University sanctioned Domínguez, but did not fully enforce those sanctions and allowed Domínguez to continue to climb the ranks.

In an emailed statement, Karl wrote that she appreciated that both the Government department and Bacow recognized “saying ‘sorry’ is not enough” and called on Harvard to continue to address past shortcomings.

“The damage caused by discrimination, particularly sexual harassment and hostile environment, will not be alleviated until the truth is fully told and understood,” she wrote. “The illumination of the failures of past practices is necessary to reveal the long-term extent of harm, both to individuals and institutions.”

Grossman added that she awaits to see the “concrete steps” the Government Department faculty — alongside the University — will take following the apology “to ensure students, faculty and staff are taken seriously when they raise concerns about faculty misconduct in the future.”

Suzanna E. Challen, a Government Ph.D. graduate who also received the department apology, wrote in an emailed statement that “it is never too late to do the right thing.”

“I appreciate the apology personally, and also on behalf of women who remain anonymous because they could not take the risks involved in coming forward,” she wrote. “Our story is just one of many stories about predatory faculty, which remains an ongoing issue at Harvard.”

“I encourage students to continue to advocate for themselves in departments across campus, and demand transparency and accountability,” she added.

Karl also called upon the University to continue to work to address issues of equity and inclusion on campus.

“Moreover, where sexual violence or degradation is at issue, coming forward is especially difficult,” she wrote. “It will always be easier with the support of leaders in the University, thus what is especially meaningful to me is the clear public commitment to address these issues in order to build a Harvard community based on equality and inclusion.”

In their statement, the Government faculty closed by thanking the women for their work in fighting for a safer campus.

“You have our sincere gratitude and admiration for your courageous campaign to see that justice is done,” they wrote.

—Staff writer Meera S. Nair can be reached at meera.nair@thecrimson.com.

—Staff writer Andy Z. Wang can be reached at andy.wang@thecrimson.com.

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